The GSG 9 (formerly the German abbreviation of Grenzschutzgruppe 9, Border Guards, Group 9) is the counter-terrorism unit of the German Federal Police, and is considered to be among the best of such units in the world. Many later counter-terrorism units of other nations were modeled after the GSG 9.
History and Name
In 1972, the Palestinian terrorist movement Black September used the Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany to kidnap eleven Israeli athletes, killing two in the Olympic Village in the initial assault on the athletes’ rooms. The incident tragically culminated when German police, neither trained nor equipped for counter-terrorism operations, attempted to rescue the athletes; they failed miserably, and the operation led to the death of one policeman, five of the eight kidnappers and the remaining nine hostages (subsequently called the Munich massacre). As a consequence of the affair’s mismanagement, German officials created the GSG 9 under the leadership of then Lieutenant Colonel Ulrich Wegener so that similar situations in the future could be responded to adequately and professionally. The unit was officially established on April 17, 1973 as a part of Germany’s federal-level police agency, the Bundesgrenzschutz (federal border guard service; renamed in 2005 to Bundespolizei, federal police). The name GSG 9 stood for “Grenzschutzgruppe 9” (border guards group 9) and was chosen simply because there existed eight regular border guard groups at the time, although after the 2005 renaming the expansion was dropped and the abbreviation GSG 9 is now the single official way to refer to the unit. Its formation was based on the expertise of the British SAS and the Israeli Sayeret Matkal, where Wegener emphasises especially the importance of the Israelis.
Its first mission, which is still one of the most well-known and established the GSG 9’s reputation as an excellent unit, was “Operation Feuerzauber” (operation fire magic). It was carried out in 1977 when Palestinian terrorists hijacked the Landshut, a Lufthansa plane on the way from Palma de Mallorca to Frankfurt, demanding that imprisoned members of the German “Red Army Faction” terrorist group be freed. After a four-day odyssey through the Middle East, the hijackers directed the Boeing 737 to Mogadishu, Somalia, where they waited for the arrival of the Red Army Faction members after the German government had (falsely) signalled they would be released. In the night between October 17 and October 18, Somalian ranger units created a distraction, while members of the GSG 9 stormed the plane. The operation lasted seven minutes and was successful: all hostages were rescued, three hijackers died, the fourth was heavily injured. Only one GSG 9 member and one flight-attendant were injured. The international counter-terrorism community applauded GSG 9 for the excellent and professional handling of the situation, especially because an assault on a plane is considered one of the most difficult scenarios.
The GSG 9 is used to act against cases of hostage taking, kidnapping, terrorism, and extortion. The group may also be used to secure locations, neutralize targets, marksmanship and fugitive hunting. Furthermore, the group is very active in developing and testing methods and tactics for these tasks. Finally, the group may provide consultation to the different Länder, Ministries and international allies. The group assists the Bundespolizei and other federal and local agencies by request.
Publicly Known Missions
- October 17, 1977/October 18, 1977: Lufthansa Flight 181 is hijacked by four Arab terrorists demanding the release of Red Army Faction members. GSG-9 stormed the aircraft on the ground in Mogadishu, Somalia and freed all 86 hostages.
- 1982: Arrest of the RAF terrorists Mohnhaupt and Schulz
- June 27, 1993: Arrest of the RAF terrorists Birgit Hogefeld and Wolfgang Grams in Bad Kleinen. Some people believed that Wolfgang Grams was executed in revenge for the death of the GSG 9 operative Michael Newrzella during the mission. Grams had shot and killed Newrzella when Newrzella tried to tackle him. However, the official investigation determined that Grams committed suicide.
- 1993: Ending of the hijacking of a KLM flight from Tunis to Amsterdam, redirected to Düsseldorf without firing a single shot.
- 1994: End of a hostage situation in the Kassel Penitentiary
- 1994: Involved in the search for the kidnappers Albert and Polak
- 1998: Arrest of an extortionist of the German railway Deutsche Bahn
- 1999: Arrest of Metin Kaplan in Cologne
- 1999: Arrest of two suspected members of the Roten Zellen in Berlin
- 1999: Involved in the ending of the hostage situation in the central bank in Aachen
- 2000: Advised the Philippines related to a hostage situation
- 2001: Arrested two spies in Heidelberg
- 2001: Aided in the liberation of four German tourists in Egypt
- 2001: Arrested a number of terrorists related to the September 11, 2001 attacks
- 2002: Arrested a number of terrorists related to the September 11, 2001 attacks
- 2003: Protection of the four members of the German Technisches Hilfswerk (THW) (the governmental disaster relief organization of Germany) in Baghdad, Iraq. The THW’s mission is to repair the water distribution network.
- 2004: The GSG 9 is responsible for protecting property and personnel of the German embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. On April 7, 2004 two members were attacked and killed near Fallujah while in a convoy traveling from Amman (Jordan) to Baghdad. The two men age 25 and 38 were traveling in a car at the rear of the convoy, and therefore received most of the enemy fire after passing the ambush. The men were shot after their armored Mercedes was hit and stopped by RPGs. In a later statement, the attackers apologized for mistaking the German convoy for an American convoy. One of the bodies is still missing.
However, most of the missions are confidential and not made public. Since the founding of the GSG 9 the group has participated on over 1500 missions, yet reportedly fired shots only on 5 occasions (official count, prior to the 2003 Iraq War). These occasions were 1977 in Mogadishu, 1993 in Bad Kleinen, and 1999 in Aachen, furthermore two more missions where firearms were used to defend against dogs of the persons to be arrested.
The unit forms part of the German Bundespolizei (Federal Police, former Bundesgrenzschutz), and thus has normal police powers, including for example the power of arrest. The Federal Police of Germany (and thus the GSG 9) is under the control of the Federal Ministry of the Interior. The Bundespolizei also provides aerial transportation for the GSG 9. In contrast, regular police are responsible to the various States or Länder, as are Spezialeinsatzkommandos (SEK) (German equivalent of SWAT), while the military is responsible for the Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK) (Special Forces command) and the Kampfschwimmer (German Navy SEAL equivalent).
The GSG 9 is based in Sankt Augustin-Hangelar near Bonn and consists of three main sub-groups, plus a number of support groups as shown below.
The first sub-group of the GSG 9 is used for regular land-based counter-terrorism actions. This may involve cases of hostage taking, kidnapping, terrorism, and extortion. The group may also be used to secure locations, neutralize targets, sniping and fugitive hunting. The group has approximately 100 members.
The second sub-group of the GSG 9 is used for operations at sea, for example the hijacking of ships or oil platforms. The group has approximately 100 members.
The third sub-group of the GSG 9 is used for airborne operations, including parachuting and helicopter landings. The group has approximately 50 members.
This unit supports other units in obtaining entry to target areas and is responsible for the procurement, testing and issuance of non-weapon equipment.
This service group maintains the armory of the GSG 9, and is involved in testing, repairing and purchasing weapons, ammunition, and explosives.
This unit handles the communications of the GSG 9, including the testing, repairing and purchasing of communications and surveillance equipment.
This is the administration of the GSG 9.
This unit trains existing members, and selects, recruits and trains the new members.
Members of the Bundespolizei and other German police services with 2 years of service can join the GSG 9. The 22-week training period includes 13 weeks of basic training and 9 weeks of advanced training. Besides medical tests there are many physical and psychological requirements, for example running 5000 meters within 23 minutes and jumping a distance of at least 2.4 meters (from a standstill). The identity of GSG 9 members is classified as top secret. Further training often involves co-operation with other allied counter-terrorism units.
Only one in five pass the training course.
- Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun, in various versions/configurations.
- Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifle, G36K,and G36C
- Heckler & Koch PSG-1 sniper rifle and G8 automatic rifle.
- SG 550 assault rifle family
- Steyr AUG A3 assault rifle
- Glock 17 pistol
- USP Family of handguns
- Smith & Wesson and Ruger .357 Magnum Revolvers
- GSG9 Tactical Boot Designed specifically for GSG 9 by Adidas
The German GSG 9 team won every event at the 2005 SWAT World Challenge in Las Vegas, beating 17 other teams. In 2006 they again gained the victory with first place in four of the eight different competitions of World SWAT Challenge.